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Jim EdwardsHear Jim Edwards read from his new book

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Complete Text: Swimming against the Current
Theology professor's book tackles tough question

Is Jesus the Only Savior?, a new book by Whitworth Professor of Theology Jim Edwards, '67, faces head-on the question of whether Jesus Christ is the sole redeemer of the world. In the following Q&A, Edwards' theology colleague Jerry Sittser interviews the author about his book.

Q: (Sittser) What gave you the idea to write this book?
A:  (Edwards) In the past couple of decades there has been a conspicuous de-emphasis on Christology in academic theology. This de-emphasis has also infiltrated the liturgy and language of the church. For example, in place of the person and work of Jesus there has been a heightened emphasis on topics such as God as creator and the role of spirituality.  This is to say, there has been a drift toward emphasizing humanity as the locus of revelation and salvation, rather than the saving initiative of God in Jesus Christ. Your question gets to the heart of why I wrote this book, which is to recall that Jesus Christ is the center and substance of the Christian faith. Without Jesus Christ, the faith of the church becomes something less than or other than Christian.

Q: What kind of readers did you write for?
A: I had two particular groups of readers in mind. One group is people who have been in the church for years and who are made aware, through TV specials or media reports, for example, that the historic Jesus of the church is being severely challenged. I wanted to help such people – the kind of people I teach weekly in my adult Sunday school class – who do not know where to turn to hear the issues adequately framed or responded to. The second group of readers I had in mind are those who doubt that there is anything especially credible to be said for the validity of the New Testament witness to Jesus. I hope to give information and assurance to the first group, and to challenge those in the second group that the case against Christianity is far from closed.

Q: What is the book's major argument and how did you develop it?
A: The major argument of the book is that there is much more information and evidence in support of the trustworthiness of the Gospel accounts of Jesus in the New Testament than most people – even people who have spent their lives in the church – are usually aware of. I developed this thesis in two ways. In the first half of the book I try to show that the idea that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of the world is not a later invention of the early church, as is often supposed (and has been recently popularized by books such as
The Da Vinci Code), but that it has remarkably strong claims to be rooted in the self-consciousness of Jesus himself. In the latter half of the book I try to show what belief in such a Jesus means in our world today, especially as we are confronted by religious pluralism, moral relativism, postmodernism, the quest for peace, and how we should think of other religions.

Q: Why does the church need a book about Jesus rather than one, say, about spirituality or mission or church growth?

A:  Well, I don't think we need the book I wrote rather than the other kinds of books you mention. Spiritual growth and mission are important issues, and many books are being written about them. But when people go into Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstores and see the spate of books written to discredit or deconstruct the veracity of the New Testament picture of Jesus, they may be interested in a book that attempts to make an alternative case. That's why I wrote this book on Jesus.

Q: The title is telling, Is Jesus the Only Savior? The very notion runs contrary to modern sensibilities. How do you deal with the values of pluralism and tolerance?
A: Amen to the fact that I'm swimming against the current on this one. I don't think anyone would have a problem with a book on Jesus as a savior of the world, that is, as one among many spiritual giants and gurus. That's a popular idea today. It is the definite article "the" that is offensive. It makes people anxious, and they – I should really say "we" because we all are caught up in this – want to deal with the offense by being silent about it, or equivocating, or perhaps even denying it. We often think that the pressure of pluralism today is something Christians in former ages didn't face, or if they did, then not to the same degree. In the book I try to show that already in the first and second centuries, when the church was still in its infancy, the Christian faith faced tremendous pressure from pluralism. We can learn from those early Christians how to navigate the waters in which we find ourselves today.

Q: Do you make the case for absolute truth in the book?
A:  I do, as well as a case for absolute moral truth. It is fashionable today to talk of the relativity of truth and morality, and perhaps we often persuade ourselves to believe it.  Whenever we defend such relativity, however, we usually do so on points that don't really matter. I think that deep down we all hold some values and beliefs to be inviolable. Most of us believe there really is such a thing as truth, and that it is better than untruth; there really is such a thing as justice, and that it is better than evil; there really is a God, and that the existence of God, especially the kind of God who claims to reveal himself in Jesus Christ, changes entirely the meaning of human life. Trying to bring some clarity to this claim was one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing this book.

Q: What, in a nutshell, is the main point you wish your readers to take away from this book?
A: When you consider the hard evidence, if you're a betting person, you'd bet on the truthfulness of the New Testament story of Jesus over any of the alternatives out there today.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: It's a massive project: an attempt to establish a more historical footing for the formation of the Gospel tradition. I am writing a scholarly and academic book trying to argue that the earliest Gospel was, as a dozen of the church fathers attest, written in Hebrew by the Apostle Matthew. This original Hebrew Gospel has long since vanished and no longer exists. I further argue that traces of this Gospel can be detected in the Gospel of Luke. Finally, I argue that the similarities between Matthew and Luke, which are traditionally ascribed to an anonymous "Q" document, are, in fact, better explained by canonical Matthew's reliance on Luke. I say "Adieu to Q"; I don't think "Q" ever existed.

Q: What are some of the notable books you've read in the last year?
A: The most significant modern book I have read in the past year is Jacques Barzun's
From Dawn to Decadence: A History of Western Culture from 1500 to the Present.  It is a magisterial book, encyclopedic in its scope and insights. The most significant ancient books I have read are Origen's Against Celsus, which deals with Origen's reply to the objections made by Celsus, a cultured pagan philosopher and a second-century despiser of Christianity; and Augustine's City of God, which I read in its entirety for the first time this year. Two other books of note are Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, which is a sobering book about Mormonism; and The Authentic Seal, a very deep and enlightening book about the life and thought of a monk named Archimandrite Aimilianos, who lived on Mt. Athos. It is one of the most spiritually mature and insightful books I have ever read; it is published in Greece and is virtually impossible to get in this country.

Q: You and your son Mark climbed the Eiger in Switzerland two years ago. What new expeditions are you planning?
A: Thinking of climbing another mountain after the Eiger is a bit like asking Caesar or Antony to imagine another woman after Cleopatra. Who can compare to her? I haven't done any mountain expeditions since then, but I have returned recently from a week at perhaps the most spectacular monastery in the world, on Mt. Athos, in Greece, which was followed by a three-week tour of ancient Christian sites in Turkey with my wife, Janie. Those two places were "mountain-top" experiences in their own right!

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